Kyle Vanden Bosch Talks B.J. Ojulari, Zaven Collins and Cardinals Free Agency

The Cardinals finished with one sack in their final six games.

As paltry as that sounds, it was worse. The lone sack came when Bears quarterback Justin Fields was chased out of bounds at the line of scrimmage by Dennis Gardeck in Week 16.

Arizona has myriad needs to address this offseason, but none may be bigger than the defensive line.

“One sack in the last six games is not good enough,” said Kyle Vanden Bosch, a former second-round pick of the Cardinals who is now a radio analyst. “You’ve got to turn over every stone, whether it’s bringing in an impact free agent which will cost you a ton of money, continue to try to draft players that can affect the quarterback. 

“But that type of production, particularly late in the season when you need your pass-rushers to step up and affect games, that’s not going to cut it. It needs to be addressed.”

I recently caught up with Vanden Bosch, the three-time Pro Bowl defensive end, to get his thoughts on the team’s two highest-profile pass-rushers and the best way to bolster the defensive front this offseason.

Rookie Edge Rusher B.J. Ojulari

The second-round pick had his ups and downs as a rookie, finishing the season with 40 tackles and four sacks. While the consistency wasn’t always there, Vanden Bosch and I agreed that Ojulari showed some tantalizing flashes off the edge.

“Watching him pass-rush, he has all the tools,” Vanden Bosch said. “He has elite bend, elite cornering ability, explosive get-off. He puts tackles in a bind with the way he gets off the ball, with the way he attacks, with the way he uses his hands. He understands leverage.”

Vanden Bosch sees Ojulari as a valuable edge-rusher on passing downs, but believes he has work to do in order to be a multi-faceted cog on defense.

“I think he needs to put on 10, 15 pounds so he can be more of an every-down player,” Vanden Bosch said. “I don’t think he holds up particularly well against the run, just because of his stature. I remember seeing him at training camp and he just looked thin.”

Ojulari dealt with a knee injury for much of last offseason, which stunted some of his growth. Vanden Bosch expects big things provided Ojulari gets a full offseason to develop his skills and transform his body.

“I think he, probably more than any rookie on that roster, will make that big second-year leap,” Vanden Bosch said. “He didn’t have OTAs and training camp because he was dealing with an injury. He didn’t have time to work the scheme, to develop his skills. He was kind of just thrown into the mix early in the season and had to figure things out.  I think, with a little bit of talent added to that front, and with a full offseason and adding some bulk to his frame, I think he can take that big step in Year 2.”

Fourth-Year Linebacker Zaven Collins

The former first-round pick finished with 41 tackles, 3.5 sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery in his first year on the edge after two years as an inside linebacker.

Unlike Ojulari, Collins rarely made an impact with his initial pass-rush move, getting most of his sacks and pressures from stunts or straight-line runs at the quarterback.

“I thought he really made a big leap the year prior, before he moved to outside linebacker,” Vanden Bosch said. “He really showed he could be an effective inside linebacker. He made progress two seasons ago and looked really good, started to look comfortable. 

“The move was tough. He’s a little different. I think he’s a little stiffer and doesn’t bend quite as well. He is strong enough and he’s big enough and he’s fast enough. I just don’t know that he has that bend, the cornering ability.”

While the odds may be against Collins becoming a capable edge rusher, Vanden Bosch didn’t want to completely rule it out based upon his own experience.

Vanden Bosch found minimal success during his four seasons with the Cardinals, before turning into a Pro Bowler with the Titans and Lions.

“Can a player find it and develop it later in his career?” Vanden Bosch said. “You’re talking to somebody who had three-and-a-half sacks in his first four years in the league. And then with getting healthy, getting in a different scheme, having a different opportunity, I finally became a Pro Bowler in Year 5. 

“A lot of it to me is reps, reps, reps, until one day you figure out your best move, and you come up with one good counter-move, and then you work it until they can’t stop it. So he can, with another full offseason, take that step. Work on some of the things with his lower-body flexibility and his ability to corner.”

Vanden Bosch believes the Cardinals’ coaching staff will have the Zaven conversation this offseason to figure out if he’s best-served moving back to inside linebacker, or if he can progress on the edge.

“It’s not always easy and it doesn’t always happen,” Vanden Bosch said. “I’m assuming there are some conversations going on about where does he best fit, where can he best help us? I think part of the reason was his measurables – his 10 time, his 40 time, his athletic ability all says outside linebacker. And the addition of Kyzir White – when healthy he was the dude in the middle, the leader of that defense. To me, (White) is what you want in an inside linebacker. So I assume the coaching staff will approach that and have some questions.”

The Free Agent Position to Target

Vanden Bosch was an edge rusher. The two players we’ve spoken about in this article are edge rushers.

But the place he’d like to see upgraded the most this offseason? Not edge rusher.

“They need more speed off the edge, but my best years and my best production was when I was lined up next to Albert Haynesworth (in Tennessee) and then I was lined up next to Ndamukong Suh in Detroit,” Vanden Bosch said. “If you can find that guy that can win on the inside or draw double teams on the inside; everybody is always so enamored with these edge rushers, but a three-technique that can push the pocket, that can put a guard into a quarterback’s lap so he can’t step up and follow through with his throws – it’s not even sack numbers – to me, that can do more for your defense than any position.”

The Cardinals are counting on more production from Ojulari next season, and added impact from Collins would be a boon.

But the defensive line still needs reinforcements, and Vanden Bosch believes a difference-maker on the interior is the way to go.

“If your three technique is the best player on your defense, you’re in a good spot,” Vanden Bosch said. “Because he can get there quickly and affect the quarterback’s throws without even getting sacks. It’s a body around the quarterback all the time so he starts to see ghosts and starts to hurry up his process, and doesn’t always make the right decisions.”

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